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the people in the dump


We’d gone half-way around Australia before I saw them...me, only seven years of age...and, as impressionable as a mould - assuming said mould was already deeply-impressed by the principles of natural justice? I’d hope so...because, when we finally got to Alice Springs - taking the necessary detour to the centre - my parents said, once their children had actually seen the awful spectacle of Australian citizens living in a dump, in the burnt-out shells of old cars - that we should be ashamed that Australians should live - in an affluent society, what’s more - in such conditions...and that those doing so were merely trying the best they could, given the appalling treatment that they, and their ancestors, had suffered until, perhaps, the last few years...

This was 1970 - a mere thirty-five years ago - and, my parents - now well-past retirement age - remember exactly what they saw then...as do I. But, far, far too-many Australians - having never actually seen the ugly reality that earlier policies delivered to the first Australians - are too-easily willing to assume that they can straightforwardly jump the multiple hurdles (in a generation or two, what’s more) so evidently in their way...as mobile hunter-gatherers forced to leap - sans our (millennial) preparation in the intermediate culture of agrarianism - into a modern mobile labour market.

So, people, just let me remind you what I then saw...as a child.

Aboriginal Australians - even then, years after their enfranchisement - were still not (effectively) permitted into the town proper. Any who so strayed, by all accounts, were rapidly arrested on vagrancy charges...so, the only place they could gather near town was said dump. And it stunk...as do all such.

When we drove past - in the middle of winter, I hasten to add - it definitely reeked...and, I’m sure that this offence was multiplied over the long, hot, central Australian summers. Meanwhile, no employer in the town would countenance Aboriginal employees...and, we (certainly) never saw any of same - meaning that “vagrancy”/dump residency would be their lot for the forseeable future.

And - even prior to petrol-sniffing (which I can fully understand) - that lot was a miserable one. Many of the cars were burnt-out...and others merely derelict - yet, these were (clearly) the residences of the blessed. Most were sheltering - if you can call it that - under pieces of wreckage...rusted-out corrugated iron, mostly - and not a single one looked happy...even the youngest children.

But...they had no place else to go...

In later years, white Australia has nourished itself upon the illusion that - given land rights (only in the least fertile zones, mind you) - tribal culture would (necessarily) regenerate...even if said communities were never offered anything like the financial support that smaller (let alone equivalently-sized) white townships had garnered over the years. And, so...the “new” communities merely replicated the hopelessness of we saw in the Alice Springs dump - and intensified same by their isolation from the modern world. Maybe - just, maybe - this wouldn’t’ve been pre-destined had it happened when tribal culture was still self-sufficient & robust... But, given many decades of state-sponsored religious erosion/the marked lack of employment opportunities/new forms of substance abuse, I’d have to say that the people in the dump I saw in 1970 are now exactly where I should’ve expected them to be...


Because...you wanna know what happened to the people in the dump? Well...we might’ve moved the dump, but they’re still having to live there...



John Henry Calvinist